Review Summary: Balls to the past" In retrospect, I was locked into a cycle of self mutilation that nobody else really understood at the time. I was very uncomfortable with the automatic respect accorded to me because of being in Iron Maiden. I felt I didn’t deserve respect automatically. It had to be earned. I did two things. First, I learned to fly airplanes, second I quit Iron Maiden.”
Bruce's own words accurately reflect his idiosyncrasy during his last days at the band. With no regrets on his decision, and sworn to embrace his freedom with a new vision, away from the big-hair-metal and 80’s cliché’s, he stumbled across an unprecedented impotence: “… This was a terrifying moment. I had always thought of myself, despite of my taste of ludicrous trousers and mickey taking, as having some shred of creativity. Yet here I was swimming in glue of my own choosing…”
However, it seems that the fiery frontman did have a plan, and with the help of the promising Tribe of Gypsies (featuring Roy Z on guitar), it eventually found its manifestation on 1994's Balls to Picasso
The album may be well portrayed as the product of Bruce's will to create something " dark, scary, joyful and intense", and his perplexity on this new turn. This constant disposition is reflected upon the songs, giving the record a moody feeling that stands out as a double edged sword: while it provides variety and unexpected climaxes, it undermines the general cohesion. And while the three first songs feature heavy riffing alongside with sing-along anthemic choruses, songs like "1000 points of Light" or "Shoot all the Clowns"(in which you can hear Bruce almost rapping) fail to show the needed spark of wit in order to sound smart and enjoyable. The opener "Cyclops" quickly creates an interesting atmosphere with its' bridge's playful rhythm, but its' big running time makes it boring after a while. The combination of smart but repetitive instrumentation continues throughout the record, with many highs and lows." Gods of War " features great vocal lines and solid riffing, and in the same vein, "Laughing in the Hiding Bush" managed to become a live favorite. " Change of Heart' stands alone as a nostalgic ballad, while "Fire" fails completely to sound memorable or sincerely quirky. Yet, Roy Z's guitar work is solid and appropriate for paving the way for Bruce's performance which is overall at very high levels. That doesn't occur though with his lyrics which exhaustively praise his newfound musical freedom or attempt an almost naive social criticism. This can be seen as a response to the heavy metal escapism that surrounded him in the Maiden days.
Still, there is one thing in the album that clearly deserves further attention, and that is its closing track, "Tears of the Dragon". The song is a 6 minute ballad, written by Bruce alone, and it is undeniably the best track here. It is Dickinson's little catharsis, a redeeming song about the overall pressure he felt in the Maiden years. And whereas the same themes are present in the whole record, here the statements are heartfelt and sincere. The lyrics are simple and intense:" I've thrown myself into the sea/ release the wave let it wash over me". Dickinson's soaring voice, the smooth acoustic guitar lines and the brilliant guitar solo at the middle section make this track one of the highlights of his career, and his most personal moment.
Forced to live under the shadow of far greater albums like Accident of Birth
or The Chemical Wedding
, Balls to Picasso
is generally a good but inconsistent album. It remains a necessary bridge(together with Skunkworks
) in Bruce Dickinson's career between a frustrated past and a bright renaissance. A venturesome undertaking at its' time, Balls to Picasso
owes a lot to it's inspirer's impulsions and to its' closing track's sheer beauty. Far away from flawlessness, it's an album of humble nature, and maybe that's why it manages to be so congenial.